I arrive later than I was planning to at the party hall. Most of the guests are already here and so I go around, meeting everyone and being introduced to their families and friends. Drinks are circulated around the room and I soon find Ray, drink in hand, talking with Tarek and his friends. All of whom are male, I'm not surprised to find. Tarek hasn't had a girlfriend for as long as I can remember. I join in the conversation for a while, relaxing under Ray's arm, which is slung over my shoulder.
My mind though is elsewhere even while I speak and laugh with everyone. For the past two weeks, a pair of startlingly clear blue-gray eyes have occupied my every thought and dream and since bumping into him this evening, it's just intensified.
My mind conjures up an image of him in the blue and white checkered shirt and dark blue jeans he was wearing today. The black dress, shoes seemed to make his casual outfit look formal. His hair, normally gelled back; at least from all the times I'd seen him, was wavy and hanging over his forehead.
Taking in a deep breath, I try to concentrate on the conversation taking place.
Once all the guests have arrived and circulated awhile, we head into the dining room. Everyone sits down and I stand at the head of the table with Ray. My staff sits on either sides of the table near me, their families and friends further down.
Ray taps a fork against his champagne glass, calling for attention.
I smile as everyone turns towards us.
"I'm so glad that you all could join us today. Especially all of my staff's families and friends. It's wonderful to meet you and get to know the people who make up my family's life. I think of my staff as my family because they're just that. They've helped turn my dream into a successful reality and for that I'll always be grateful." I pause as everyone's family and friends clap.
"It's all because of you Chloe!" Foster calls out, smiling.
I nod, "Yes it was my idea, but you helped me make it happen. anyway," I continue before anyone can argue. "Tonight is meant to be a day when we can all relax and a way of me saying thank you. And it's also tonight that I'll be announcing the results of the voting earlier this week." Seeing a few puzzled faces at the back, I clarify. "I'm not always able to be at the bakery the whole day. There are times I have to leave for the weekend and others when I can't come in the mornings. During those times, I need to be sure that someone is there looking after things. Now, most of you," I look at my staff, smiling. "have already taken up responsibility when I've been away and many of you have fared with no problems. All of us reach a point where we don't know what to do, I know I still do, and it's only experience that helps you learn to deal with life."
I watch as it sinks in and everyone nods. I glance towards Ray and he nods, smiling encouragingly. "The results of the voting were... surprising. I told you all that I already had two finalists in mind and they turned out to be the two people with the most votes." I pause as everyone glances at each other, murmuring. "You have to know when I made the decision I looked at a couple of things. Firstly, there was your family background or situation. Some of us are needed at home most of the time, we've got kids, husbands that need to be taken care of. Of course there are responsibilities we cannot shirk. And then there was how the person deals under pressure. I need someone whose head will still be attached even if the bakery explodes." I smile as there are a couple of chuckles.
"There was also the problem of timing. You know how it is. At times I have to be at the bakery from five in the morning till it closes at eleven. I'm not expecting you to be there all the time but there are times and situations when I'll need someone and I don't want to have to inconvenience anyone to come when they can't. Lastly, there's the future. I have got very talented chefs and I'm very proud of it. But a few of us have ambitions to take our talent and make use of it." As I say this I glance at Darren and Tarek. "I want to help with that. You don't need help in the cooking part and I'm willing to help in any way if you do, but what I want to concentrate on is the management. Believe me, business management is a skill and it doesn't just turn up. There are a few people who are born with it but most of us need to develop the skill and I want to help develop it." I glance at Ray for a second before continuing, "So the two people who tied for highest votes are..."I pause, wanting to prolong the moment. "Claire and Tarek."
Claire's husband is beaming proudly as everyone applauds. Tarek's friends exchange high-fives and slap him on the back, clearly happy.
"Congratulations to the both of you! But I can only choose one person," I say as it quiets down a few minutes later. "And after much deliberation, discussion and second thoughts-"
"I'm telling you, a LOT of deliberation. She nearly drove me mad!" Ray adds, laughing.
I elbow him as everyone chuckles. "Yes, well, it's an important matter. I decided that the one person who fits what I've been looking for is..." I smile as a few people lean forward, eagerly. "Tarek!"
The room literally erupts in applause. There's whistling and clapping as Tarek is congratulated. From what I can tell, everyone's glad that he's chosen.
I relax, seeing everyone happy. I was worried where I might have made a decision they wouldn't be happy with.
"See. Nothing to worry about." Ray whispers in my ear, his arm around my waist. Sighing, I relax in his embrace. "You really do work yourself up a lot Chlo. Everyone's so proud of you, you don't need to do anything but be yourself."
Smiling, I glance up at him. "Thanks Ray. You know I can't do anything without you."
"Except breathe," he grins. "And dream about Jacob. You've been distracted tonight. What's up?"
I blush, biting my lip. "Is it that obvious?"
He shakes his head. "Nope. I just know you that well."
I smile, looking away. "Guess who I bumped into, on my way here?"
"Who?" His eyes narrow as he searches my face.
I watch as his lips curve into a smirk. "I should have known! This guy's got you tied up hasn't he?"
I shake my head. "And I don't even know him!"
Smiling, Ray hugs me tight before pulling away. "That's a good thing."
Before dinner starts, Claire stands up and thanks everyone for their support and that she's really happy for Tarek.
"I'm glad you got chosen honey. I'm getting a little old for all the pressure and I would be worried where I'd let something slip. And you deserve to be chosen because you're so hardworking and talented. So cheers to you!" She lifts up her champagne glass and everyone follows suit.
After dinner there's dancing and everyone of Tarek's friends insist on dancing with me until Ray comes and rescues me from all the attention. But even he gets only two minutes before Tarek himself interrupts to take me over.
Smiling, I look up at him as he places his hands on my waist. I reach up and wrap my arms around his neck and he chuckles.
"It's a good thing you're wearing heels."
I roll my eyes. "Not my fault you're a giant."
He laughs, "No it isn't."
I grin, glancing over his shoulder at the full dance floor. "Are your friends enjoying?"
"Yeah they are. At least they were while they were dancing with you." I chuckle, turning back to him. "Thank you Chloe. For everything."
I shake my head, smiling, "Tarek you deserved it. There's no need to thank me."
"No I should! You've helped me so much! Not only now but from before. When my mother died, taking care of me, looking out for me. And now making my dreams more achievable."
"Tarek, really I didn-"
"Yes you did!"
"Okay, okay. You're welcome." I roll my eyes, smiling.
He smiles and reaches down and kisses my cheek.
"What's wrong?" Ray mumbles, wrapping an arm around me as I snuggle up to him.
"Nothing. Can't sleep." Sighing, I bury my face in his shoulder.
"I thought you were exhausted. Did you have a nightmare?"
"No." I look up at him. "Do you want me to leave?"
"No." His arm tightens around me as he says it and smiling, I lay my head back on his shoulder.
On my way home from the bakery the next day, I decide to stop by the bar at the end of the street. Ray's playing pool with a few of his friends from work so he won't be home and I'm not looking forward to an evening alone so a half an hour to kill wouldn't hurt. It's around eleven thirty when I push open the door and head inside towards the bar.
Perched on the stool, I order a glass of red wine and sit back. Glancing around the bar, I take in the full booths. There's music blasting out of the speakers placed around the room and there are a few drunk girls actually dancing.
"Thank you." I pull the glass towards me and take a small sip.
Life's so weird. When I'm at the bakery I'm fine. I'm happy, energetic. Even when I'm at home with Ray, it's just like the old times. But as soon as I'm alone, anywhere, in my bedroom, at the grocer's, I start feeling lonely, insecure. I really don't know what's wrong with me. I'm over Ben, I don't feel like crying anymore at the thought of him. It's been over two months since I've seen him. It's just when I think about my wedding that I feel sad. So close to my happily ever after and it just slipped away. But I don't think I'd have had a happily ever after, if I'd stayed with Ben.
I don't know what to do.
Sighing, I finish off the drink and order another one.
I spend almost every night with Ray. He doesn't question me in the mornings but I know he worries.
The last time I talked to my parents, they were urging me to come up to Ottawa to spend some time with them after the breakup, but I'd only gone the day after my supposed wedding and stayed for the weekend.
I need to go and spend some time with them.
Polishing off the last of the drink, I pay the barman and hop off my stool. The bar's gotten more full since I came, the noise level escalating.
I turn around and start walking towards the bar. One thing I've learned is never to make eye contact with anyone and so that's why I don't notice the figure walking towards me until he stops in front, halting me in my steps.
"Ben!" I gasp, startled.
Speak of the devil and the devil shall appear.
"How are you?" He asks.
"Fine, what about you?" I take a step back, watching him warily. He's really drunk. From the way he's slurring and not being able to stand straight, I can tell.
"Why did you leave me Chloe? We were so great together."
"Because you didn't love me." I answer back coldly.
"Yes I did! I did! With all my heart!"
"No Ben, you didn't."
"Yes I did!" He lurches forward and grabs my arms.
I try to pull back but his grip is too tight.
"Ben let go."
"Come on Chloe, I know you still love me."
"No I don't! Let go of me!" I try to pull back but his grip just tightens. "Ow! You're hurting me!"
"Let go of her arms."
My heart jumps in my throat at the sound of that deep, familiar voice. I don't want to glance behind me because that means taking my eyes off Ben and I have no idea what he's going to do.
"Get lost. It isn't your business."
"Let go!" The voice just gets more threatening.
"Look mate, it isn't your damn business. I can do what I want with my fiancée."
What?! I stare at him, shocked. Is he mad?
"Yes it is! Now let go of her before I make you."
I feel him take a step closer, feel his body right behind me, and I guess through his drunken haze Ben realizes it would be better if he lets go and so drops his arms. Throwing me a glare, he stumbles away.
I take in a sharp breath, my heart pounding. That was so close. If he hadn't turned up... I shiver, trying not to think what Ben could have done.
"Chloe?" I feel a hand on my shoulder. He walks around me so that he's facing me. "Are you alright?"
I look up at Jacob. Through the shock I register his concerned expression.
I nod slowly, my heart still in my throat. His perfect eyebrows knit together as he frowns, watching me.
"Let me get you a drink."
When I just stare up at him, making no move, he takes my elbow and steers me towards the bar.
A minute later he hands me a beer and sits down beside me with one of his own. Sipping my drink, I feel better as the liquid makes its way down my throat. Thoughts of what could have happened disappear as I realize I'm safe.
Thanks to Jacob.
"Feel better?" He asks, watching me.
I nod, feeling myself blush. "Thank you."
He nods, smiling slightly. "No problem."
"No, I meant for before. Thank you for saving me." I glance down at my hands.
"He was hurting you." Jacob frowns but he still somehow manages to look sexy. "I should have punched him. The idiot."
"Jacob," I lay my hand on his arm and then nearly yank it back at the sudden heat of touching him. My hand's buzzing but I force myself to keep my expression the same. "Thank you."
His face softens as he looks at me. "You're welcome Chloe."
I nod, gulping down another sip of beer. When I glance at him, he's looking at me.
"Do you know him?" I look away, not sure how to reply. "You don't have to answer."
"He's my ex." I answer, looking back at him.
"Oh." He nods, turning back to his drink.
"Yeah first time I saw him in months and I was just shocked. He's... unpredictable when he's drunk so there was that as well." I shudder just thinking about it.
"You're fine right?" Jacob glances at me.
"Yes, thank you." I pause, watching him. "It's twice now."
"What?" Finishing his beer, he turns to me.
"It's twice now. Tonight and then yesterday with the cars."
"We'll just add it to our tab then." He winks at me and I smile.
"No, really Jacob."
"Maybe I'll drop by your bakery sometime and you can treat me to a free meal." He smiles.
"Sure." I shrug. "It's the least I can do."
He chuckles, a deep sound that's got my body tingling. I reach for my bag to pay for the drink but he shakes his head.
"It's on me. No, don't argue." When I open my mouth, he holds up a hand.
Smiling, I get up. "Thanks so much."
"Don't mention it." He smiles and follows me as I step away from the bar. "Would you like me to drop you home?"
I shake my head, pulling out my keys from my bag. "No thank you. I've got my car."
He follows me silently to my car and stands back as I unlock my door and open it.
"Good night Chloe."
I look over the hood of my car at him standing on the sidewalk, his hands in his leather jacket. The cool breeze is blowing through his hair.
Smiling, I duck down and slide into my seat. As I drive down the street, I glance into my rearview mirror and see him standing in the same place, looking after me.
Replies to Comments
Tamika - Lol... You might have to give up on the Ray & Chloe thing haha. Yeah he's keeping things to himself at the moment. I'm not sure why they didn't put it up. I'll try another one don't worry.
Lucy - Sorry about that. I'm not sure why they didn't put it up. I'll try again. Haha, you know me. My lips are sealed. You'll have to wait to find out! Ray isn't acting but let's see how things turn out yeah?
PH - Hold on to that strong feeling! Haha, you know me too well lol, but yeah you'll have to wait. Yeah I will don't worry. I'll put another one on... Yeah you'll see the girl if she's going to be a part of the story, lol anytime! I'm glad you enjoyed!! Haha sorry! I won't! Enjoooy!
Casey - Thank you! Glad you're enjoying!
PH - Haha whaaat? Again? I'm glad to see your comment though! Completely made my day! And I'm glad you're liking Jacob till now! I'm really happy you commented again.
MayJuneJuly - Hahah, sure honey! I will! I'm so glad you love it! Yeah lots of things happened this chapter! I will! Love you monster.
Macy - I'm glad you're enjoying! Yeah, he seems secretive till now... I will! Thanks!
Jar - Haha, I think your wish came true as you read last chap lol, he does, doesn't he? Sssshh!! Jaaar just 'cuz you know what happens doesn't mean you can spill the beans girlie!! Thanks soo much!
Sarah - Thanks a lot! I'm glad you do!
RD - Aaaw thank you!
Queenie - Hahaha okaaay.. Well, I'm not going to say anything! You'll see how the story goes! All I can say is, don't hold too tight to the Chloe & Ray dream... I'm super glad you enjoyed! Thanks so much!
Tamika - I already posted! They just need to put it up! Hope you enjoooy!
Okay, I finished writing the 22nd chapter and I'm in love with the 21st and 22nd. Just wanted to share that with you guys... don't ask me why! Lol.